Growing up in Washington and Herculaneum, Annette Door never imagined she would be homeless.
Yet, that is where the former insurance broker, who has been declared disabled by the state following nine cardiac stints and ongoing rheumatoid arthritis, has found herself for the past six months.
“You’re only a heartbeat away from being homeless,” said Door, who explained she became homeless the first time after a lengthy divorce, losing her job and being evicted from a mobile home she was renting.
“They said I couldn’t work anymore. Nobody wants to hire me. Nobody wants to pay that insurance. So I ended up not being able to pay my rent and got kicked out a lot. So here I am, with no money and no place to go,” said Door, who relies on a $600 monthly Social Security check to help her get by.
This is the second time in her life that she has been homeless. The first time she spent three months drifting from place to place, sleeping overnight in a pickup truck with a broken passenger window covered by a plastic bag.
“(Social Security) doesn’t go very far. So yeah, this is where I land. I’ve got my truck. I’ve slept in my truck countless times. If it weren’t for this warming shelter, that’s where I would be (tonight),” Door said.
Thursday she and more than a dozen other Washington-area residents were given overnight accommodations at the American Inn, courtesy of the Franklin County Community Resource Board. The organization rents the hotel rooms when overnight temperatures fall below 32 degrees, or 40 degrees if there is precipitation.
Door spoke to The Missourian while sitting atop a bed in a second-floor hotel room. The Missourian also attempted to interview other individuals staying at the hotel through the program, but those interview requests were declined.
Door said she has spent the past several nights at the hotel, grateful not just for the bed’s warmth and the sense of normalcy following a hot shower, but also for the peaceful slumber of knowing she is safe from harm.
Door knows how dangerous it can be for a woman living alone on the streets. Many nights she will take her truck to a parking lot area or a secluded country road to sleep.
“(It is) very scary because you never know who’s going to walk upon you at any minute. I have that busted window on one side, so that’s even scarier. My (truck) alarm would go off if somebody tried to get in, but it still is scary,” Door said.
“It is a relief, a real relief, knowing that I have a safe place to go,” Door said.
Safe Place in Jeopardy
Demand for the rooms is skyrocketing as temperatures have routinely dipped below the freezing mark this winter, according to officials with the Franklin County Community Resource Board.
Last year, the group used available space at Mercy Hospital Washington to accommodate 200 people over the course of the winter.
This year, that space was not available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the program was moved to the American Inn, which has been owned by Kierin Chen for about a year. She said she agreed to rent the rooms because she needed the money for her hotel.
“I need the money — that is the only reason. In winter time, business is not so good,” Chen said.
“Last year, we were averaging eight people per night. This year, (it’s) 18,” said Mark Skornia, Washington’s emergency management director. Last Sunday, as an icy rain soaked the city, 24 people without homes were housed at the hotel.
In January, the group had 395 people staying overnight at the hotel, some of them for multiple nights, up from 111 people in December.
“People have to share a room because I don’t have enough room for them,” Chen said. She explained she only rents certain rooms within her 17-room hotel to the resource board.
“Some people are good, but some people are crazy. Some people are normal, some are abnormal,” said Chen, who added she has had to kick some out for bad behavior.
Those who stay there represent a broad cross-section of people, according to officials with the resource board.
“It is running us about $10,000 a month to have those rooms,” said Annie Foncannon, executive director of the resource board. The group pays American Inn $35 per person who stays overnight.
Initially, Foncannon said the group had raised $17,985 from 65 donors.
“Unfortunately, because of that need we have gone through that. Now, we actually owe the hotel $5,000, and we think it will take at least $20,000 to get us through the rest of the winter,” Foncannon said.
The increased demand has squeezed the group’s finances, and Door said people like her are worried if the funding runs out, their safe place will no longer be available to them.
“That scares me because then I’ll be back out on the street, and that’s a scary place to be. People think they can’t end up here, but believe me, you can. I went from a $250,000 home to this,” Door said. “I’d have no choice; I would be in my truck. I have no family close. My parents are deceased. My children live in other states and far away. And I really have nowhere to go. So I’d be in my truck hoping I have gas money to keep the heat on.”
Foncannon and others, including Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee, said they are hopeful that it won’t come to that, especially as next week’s forecasted overnight temperatures are single digits.
Based on past experience, Menefee said he would imagine many of those at the American Inn would go into Washington Public Library until it closes, then would try to sleep in downtown storefronts or in alleyways. On very cold nights, Menefee said some may resort to breaking into abandoned homes to get out of the cold.
Door hopes that by sharing her story, others will help continue the program.
“Give, give and give. This is so necessary and so beneficial to the ones that use it,” Door said.
Menefee agreed, “I’d encourage them to look at their fellow man. That person is their brother, their sister. And those people are out there without shelter. You can leave them out in the cold or give them a warm place to stay. It is up to you.”
A GoFundMe started for the program has raised $1,600 as of Monday, Feb. 8. See the current total at this link.